Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category
There’s something very appealing about old futuristic houses that are in a less-than-perfect, slightly crumbly, state of repair. This is in Puebla, Mexico.
The below was written as notes into my iPod on Saturday. I’ve not really done much to it other than tidy things up a touch.
62 quid. A return ticket from London to Lincoln. Seems excessive, that.
The company that operates the train that goes that was gives you 15 minutes of Wi-Fi use for free. It’s free all the time if you are a first class human being. I, though, am a second class citizen, so only 15 minutes. Well, there would’ve been 15 minutes had the sign-up process for the free Wi-Fi not had been like applying for a bank loan. Honestly, all you need to do is ask me if agree to your terms and conditions, which, I will say yes to without reading, and then I tap the CONNECT button. Easy. Why do they need my address?
The girl sat next to me, in the window seat was read “The Outsider” by Albert Camus. The man sat next to her in the aisle seat was playing cards on his iPod touch. She won the battle of intellects.
There seems to be a lot smaller areas for luggage than I remember trains having.
Some guy walked by: very difficult to tell if he’s got body odour or has just eaten or been near to a warm Cornish pasty.
Change trains at Peterborough. My first taste of non-London UK. Chatty girls working at the train station coffee shop. A stag do of men on the other platform. All in fancy dress: a couple of soldiers, one guy as Hulk Hogan, another as Mr. T, and one in a shiny blue leotard with a Union Jack wrapped around his shoulders.
A teenage kid with his mates dropped litter, and one of his mates chastised him for doing so: “there’s a bin just there!”
A guy getting on the Peterborough to Lincoln train with a New York Yankees fitted hat with the word “Trevor” stitched on the side in a gothic font. When we got on the train I asked him about it. All he said was, “got it done in the States.”
Did a couple of quick drawings on my iPad, looking out of the window. Interesting to do something like that, with the light changing so fast. (There’s no Wi-Fi at me mum’s house, so I can’t put them online at the moment.)
I turned off the podcast I’d been listening to. I didn’t want my first experiences of being back in my home county tainted by thoughts of the specifics of the current baseball news. Listened to some Baxter Dury instead. Music that could enhance the Englishness. (After Baxter, I put on MGMT’s second album. That’s an album I adore. Way better than the first album. One of my favourite records of the last couple of years. But it’s also an album I totally associate with Mexico. I have listened to it a lot in Mexico City. And it does feel a little out of place for the mental diorama I have laid out for that record. That diorama had sunshine and a t-shirt, not clouds and cold toes. And I do have cold toes: the ankle level air vents on the train seem to not be pumping warm air, despite the date being 17th December.)
An old lady that looked very much like a snowman got off at Sleaford.
Sat at that station for twenty minutes. Dusky light turned dark, whitey-blue signs turned sodium orange as we waited for another slightly faster train to overtake us.
It wouldn’t really be dark were it not for the cloud cover. As we left Sleaford, as the town’s outskirts gave way to fields, the true scale of the Lincolnshire skies showed itself. Just a huge 180 degrees of grey. And just above the western horizon, a long thin slash of peach-coloured setting sun. The hugeness of the Lincolnshire skies is my favourite thing about the county.
And what to do when I arrive? I’d told my mother I’d be arriving home a couple of days later. I hate surprises. Hate is way too strong a word for that. And I get the feeling that saying you hate surprises is the new “I hate clowns.” But, I am surprising my mother. Terrible. But, as the train trundles along a track as bumpy as former DDR autobahns, I’m wondering if I should go and have a pint first. Just sit in a pub and let the Lincoln accents soak in for a while. I imagine I’ll delete these words from the blog post if I don’t go for a pint. And that makes it all the sillier that I am writing in a way that is acknowledging the presence of a reader.
The train pulls into Metheringham station. This is a village I’ve not thought about for a very long time. Frankly, I can’t picture it in my head either. But then, I do have problems with remembering names of places. Plenty of the towns in Lincolnshire, or towns I visited on childhood holidays are mapped out quite well in my brain, but the signs and names don’t exist. I lived in Lincoln for 22 years of my life, yet I still can’t tell you the name of the street where Ritzy nightclub is.
The darkened reflection of my face in the window. And the train seats, too. They soon begin to become punctuated with rectangles of yellow kitchen and living room light from houses that back up to the track; the occasional street light, and eventually the street lights on raised ridge to the north of Lincoln.
Then the lights of Monks Road and the industrial estate between that street and the train, and above it all the cathedral, illuminated, always there like a very fancy, yellow cherry.
Off the train, to the Jolly Brewer. A pub that I spent many nights in during my late teens and early twenties. Accents! Accents! A shock to hear my real accent being spoken back at me by the woman behind the bar. A couple of faces that I recognise in the pub. Not people I know, just faces. Older. Craggier. I ask for a pint of Kronenberg. “Pardon?” Even in my hometown people don’t understand me. I’d often thought, in Berlin or in Mexico, it was my pronunciation of things, but really, I guess it’s because I often mumble quite quietly. “Insomnia” by Faithless was playing in the pub. I have gone back in time.
I drank the pint quickly and left. Wandering slowly to the bus station, I look at faces, but the wrong faces. I look at the faces of young people to see if I recognise them. But there’s no point looking at those people. They were toddlers when I lived here. I should be looking at the middle-aged people.
It’s cold, yet there are a significant amount of young men and women in inappropriate clothing. Thin sweaters. Girls in mini skirts. Legs marbled red and white, the way cold British skin does.
I head to the place at the bus station where the bus going near to my mum’s house leaves from. Except it doesn’t any more. There’s been a change around. I walk around looking for the right place. I listen to “Smile” by the Beach Boys, a record that I fell in love with (well, bootleg tapes I fell in love with) when I lived here nearly 20 years ago. It reminds me of wanting to leave Lincoln, which felt funny, standing waiting to get the bus to my mum’s house.
The guy in front of me in the queue has a tattoo on his neck. It says BLAND. No words. I’d already seen a FATHER neck tattoo, and a bit-too-big green and black neck tattoo of a hand grenade.
“A single to Larne Road, please.”
“One pound ninety.”
Which is a 4.09km journey. If you take that price and apply it to a flight from Heathrow to Mexico City, it would mean the 8,919km flight would cost £4,168.84. So now you know.
I don’t go to many football (soccer) games these days. Only been to two this year so far: in July, I saw an MLS game between Toronto FC and FC Dallas, and on Wednesday, I saw the FA Youth Cup third round tie between Arsenal and Derby County. Youth, in the context of the Football Association means under eighteen years of age. Arsenal’s youth team play their games at Underhill Stadium in Barnet at the northern edge of Greater London. Handily, the stadium is about a cigarette’s length from my mate John’s house. Which is very handy for him, being an Arsenal fan. It was just £3 to get in. There aren’t many spectators at that level of football. Only one stand was open, and a significant amount of the seats were taken up by squad members of both sides. John pointed out that former youth players, current first team squad members, Emmanuel Frimpong and Ignasi Miquel, were in attendance. For me, as a Liverpool fan, I was more interested in the fact that former Liverpool player, current Derby County manager, and son of Brian, Nigel Clough, was there. After the last few years primarily watching baseball, it doesn’t really feel natural any more to be watching football. The 45 minute halves go by really quickly. A crappy hot dog and crappy hot chocolate at half time. But it was enjoyable, despite the cold weather. It was 0-0 at full time, so our cold toes were subjected to 30 minutes of extra time. Derby scored midway through the first period of extra time. And players were hobbling around; it seemed like half of them had cramp. If finished 1-0 to Derby, another quick cigarette, and we were home, toes slowly warming.
Last weekend, I met up with my friends Ian and Andy in a pub in Bethnal Green, in the east end of London. An aborted attempt to meet up earlier turned out well: he had a spare ticket for Saint Etienne’s Christmas party thingy, at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. Should you not be British or not know what a working men’s club is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_men’s_club. Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club was a lot nicer than the one pictured on Wikipedia. We put our coats in the cloakroom (I wonder what percentage of items placed in a cloakroom are actually cloaks these days? Gotta be less than 0.001%, I’d say). There was a brass plaque on the wall in memory of some man whose name I forget, and whose exact role at the Working Men’s Club I also forget. But it was nice to see. Up some stairs, and into a decent-sized room. Probably a couple of hundred people in there. Ian got us all in with his magical piece of paper with some stuff written on it. Our names were checked off a list, and we were all handed a compact disc (St. Etienne’s “Xmas ’11 EP,” which, as I’m sure you will have already guessed is a limited edition thingy, only given to people in attendance at the event), a poster (that I gave to Ian to do with as he please; it would never survive un-fucked up in my backpack), and a raffle ticket (mine was number 202). The event was not a live show, but Saint Etienne were DJ-ing, playing their 100 favourite songs. Which I was kind of glad about. I like some of Saint Etienne’s music – “Avenue” is a wonderful song, and Good Humor was a decent album – but on the whole, I don’t really think they are a good as their own idea of what the band should be is. And Sarah Cracknell’s voice annoys me after more than a handful of songs. They do have good taste in music, though. When we arrived they were already well into their list. 10CC’s “Rubber Bullets.” A belter of a song. New Order’s “Ceremony” was next. It would be a good night if that quality continued. And it did. Bowie, Gainsbourg, Gentry, Wonder, Whitney Houston (“It’s Not Right, But It’s OK” is fantastic, but sadly, I was downstairs in the room with a pool table and a ping pong table having a fag at the time). One lovely thing about the night was the age of the people there. My guess would be the average age was definitely mid-thirties. Plenty of folks my age, too. It felt nice to be amongst people in the same age group. There was a pleasantness to the evening which was partly due to that, and partly due to the people who would be Saint Etienne fans. Whilst smoking, strangers would invariably end up chatting. At the bar, there was none of the usual scramble to be served first. Plenty of “you first.” And back to the chatting I mentioned the other day: it was just lovely to have a good natter with people. Spent a while talking to a couple of Ian’s friends who’d had pretty interesting lives, had a wee chat with a girl at the bar. She had lovely cheekbones. All interspersed with plenty of abrupt pauses when a new song came on: Oooh, “Porpoise Song”! T-Rex “Get it On,” Barry White “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little Bit More,” My Bloody Valentine “Soon,” Frankie Knuckles “Your Love.” After a handful of Newcastle Brown Ales (a beer I’ve not drank for many, many years), it was time to start glancing at my watch. Being the 24 hour city that it is, I knew I’d have to be leaving around 11pm to get the last Tube train home. Number 13 on Saint Etienne’s top 100 was “Sons of the Stage” by World of Twist. An absolutely wonderful song. But it would have to be my last. Time to say goodbye to a lovely night out, say goodbye to my lovely friends, say goodbye to lovely new people I didn’t know a few hours before. I found out from Saint Etienne’s Twitter feed that “Rock On” by David Essex was their number one. If you scroll down to the tweets they sent on 11th of December, you’ll see the whole list.
I had a few hours to kill on Thursday afternoon. I had a wander around central London, kinda pretending to be a proper tourist. I had a Marks and Spencer Christmas sandwich (turkey, stuffing, bacon, and cranberry jam-type stuff). It was lovely. Better than the Pret a Manger Christmas sandwich I had a couple of days ago. I will be trying to eat as many different sandwich shops’ Christmas offerings as possible. I sat down to eat that on one of the stone benches in Trafalgar Square, staring at the rather-underwhelming Christmas tree, the illuminated-by-different-coloured-lights fountains, and a big ugly thing that’s counting down to the London Olympics. Apparently, the London Olympics is two hundred and twentzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, oh I don’t care how many days it is until it starts… I went into Sister Ray, a record shop on Berwick Street that was previously the location of Selectadisc. Still kinda looks the same inside. And still smells like a proper record shop, it smells of protective plastic sleeves and cardboard record sleeves. It’s a nice smell, an evocative smell. But, sadly, I have lost the skills needed to browse in a record shop. It’s been too long since I last did it. I flick though the D section, looking for the recent Baxter Dury album. It’s not there. I half-heartedly look at other sections, but I just don’t have that desire in me any more. Which isn’t a nice thing to realise. For most of my life, I’ve adored record shops, I’ve adored buying things that I knew nothing about, just because the record was on a good label and the sleeve was nice. CDs started the rot, but iTunes has completely ruined it for me. Damn you, Apple.
I went to get a coffee, not because I wanted one, really: mostly because I wanted to use some free Wi-Fi, to check email on my iPod. Just wandering around, doing nothing. Checking my watch. To the New Era shop to see if they had a baseball cap that I would like. They didn’t, and I had enough restraint to not just buy another for the hell of it. Back to Trafalgar Square to have a mooch around at the National Gallery. I’ve only ever been inside there once to properly look around. I think the great thing about that place, though, apart from the fact that the collection is owned by British public, is it’s a good place to go if you’ve got half an hour to spare. I’ve been in there plenty of times to do just that. It’s just a nice place to be. The wooden floors are nice, the different-sized rooms, the layout which means you can kinda lose yourself, but not enough to be lost. And it’s a fabulous collection. And if you go again and again, you can bypass the famous pieces with small crowds around them and check out paintings you’ve not really noticed before.
I walked through Charing Cross station. There’s things about daily life in London that I’d forgotten I used to do. Waiting in the concourse of a train station, looking up at the big boards to see which platform my train would be at is one of those things. But yesterday, I wasn’t doing that. I just walked past the hundreds of people doing what I did pretty much every week day for four years. I walked down the passage that runs along side the train tracks, over the footbridge across the Thames. It’s a beautiful view at night. The South Bank Centre loos great, the skyline to the east is pretty, lights reflecting off the river, and big red buses going across Waterloo Bridge. I sat by the river for a while, resting my feet, listening to podcasts about baseball. Had a wander down past the London Eye, had a good long look at the House of Parliament, up along Whitehall, and over to Covent Garden, to a Canadian-themed pub called the Maple Leaf. Felt a bit funny to be in a bar with Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Blue Jays jerseys on the wall having so recently been in Canada, and never seeing a pub like that. I met my mates Mark and John, and we got a wee bit drunk, chatting the night away. We saw Mike Leigh and Tim Roth coming out of a building, moments after Mark had wondered what it would be like to live in that building (it was squeezed between two pubs). Drinking and chatting and laughing. On the Tube home, a couple of girls sharing one pair of headphones sat down opposite us. They seemed to be having a fun night. One was Spanish, the other Hungarian. The Spanish girl was harassing the guy sat next to her. She kept talking to him, put her legs on his knee. All the time, he took it in his stride, never once taking his white earbuds out. He was a good sport. John and I said goodbye to Mark. We kept on chatting all the way home, where I plonked myself on the sofa, watched a bit of Bullseye on one of those channels that shows old stuff, just trying to drift off to sleep because my head was spinning a bit.
The following was written last night, into the Notes thingy on my iPod. I was a wee bit drunk. I have, though, gone through, corrected typos, clarified drunk ramblings and stuff, but on the whole, it’s the same as was written between Goodge Street and High Barnet on the Northern Line of the London Underground.
My feet hurt. A sentence that gives no indication of tense. My feet were hurting.
When I was in Toronto at the start of the month, I bought a new pair of boots. Boots that I call Chelsea boots, boots that my construction worker friend in Oregon calls Romeos. Boots that Blundstone call… whatever it is, I’m not sure what they’re called, I forget. I prefer Romeos, that’s a nice name. But really, in my head, they were called “replacement to the shitty, cheap boots that wore out way too quickly.”
I wore the Blundstones one day when it was raining. They kept the water out that the shitty boots would not have, but they hurt. They needed breaking in. So I kept the shit boots until I got to London. I bought some Clark’s desert boots. Clark’s make my favourite shoes: Wallabies. But, I’ve been in a boots mood for a couple of years, so figured I’d buy something different, and desert boots are great. I chucked out the shit boots because I’ve never had much problem with Clark’s before. Sadly, the desert boots still feel a wee bit stuff, so today, and for the last couple of days, I’ve been alternating between two pairs of boots that need a bit of breaking in. My feet hurt. I am typing these words as I stand in a hot Tube carriage. There’s a hipster with a moustache close to me. We made brief eye contact, and I found it difficult not to blurt out a laugh at both the ‘tache and his ostentatiously big glasses.
I’m a bit boozy, a bit grumpy. Partly because of the boots, partly because of the idiot in the elevator at Goodge Street station who thought it would be funny to press the open button in the elevator just as they were closing, that kept the doors open for about 30 seconds extra. It meant that when I got to the platform, my train was just leaving. The next train, the one I am on, would be ten whole British minutes later. Even more frustrating, because of the bilious nature of my brain, was the fact that the southbound train that he was taking arrived just as he turned left to go to the platform. Yet, I am listening to Eloise by Barry Ryan, which should make any three minutes of my life – my life, your life, everyone’s life – better. It is a fantastic song. You know this, right? (And if you only know the version by the Damned, go to iTunes right now and get Barry’s version, cos the Damned’s version sucks balls. Balls made of dog hair and pigeon shit.) There’s a moment in the Ryan version about 3:45 in, after it’s broken down and gone slow for a while, when there’s a short Beach Boys-y bit, followed by a couple of drum beats and it kicks off again. One of my favourite moments in all of pop music, that.
Anyway, this is the problem I have and fear I will always have with the nation where I was born: the good things are difficult for me to appreciate when there’s bad shit. This is MY problem, I think. Glass half empty. I just had a lovely evening in a pub with a friend. It was perfect in many ways. We had a great meandering natter. She gave me a jar of her delicious home-made mustard. I drank decent beer, but, as seems to be the way, every beer brand in this damn country has its own specific glass. And because of the tedious world of branding, I was drinking a beer that was served in a tall vase. Those glasses are awful. They look like the centre of gravity would be too high to withstand an accidental nudge. When I was ready for the second pint, I asked the barman for it a regular pint glass. He said he wasn’t allowed to do that. He said that without even looking at me, and said it in a way that suggested he’d been asked before. But he could give me a pint glass. I could decant it myself. Yes. Thank you. Logic graffitied over by the vandal of marketing.
The diarrhoea-filled toilet bowl we call the economy seems to have changed central London. A familiar crossroads, where Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street meet, has changed. Not just because of the Tube station renovations, but big landmark stores are boarded up. No more Virgin. No more Waterstone’s. No more Other-Big-Book-Store-That-I-Forget-The-Name-Of. There’s a TK Maxx. That store seems to be an indicator that a shopping mall is going down the tubes. They sell cheap stuff. And now there’s one in central London.
But, that’s the part of my brain that wants to continue to think that leaving the UK eleven years ago was a good idea. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good idea, I’m still happy I did, there’s more to this planet than a tiny self-important island off the coast of Holland. And when I see things I dislike about the UK, it only helps reinforce the idea that it was a good idea. I’m not an impartial judge. And right from the moment I arrived, I’ve felt that. The border immigration control thing at Heathrow seems more American. There’s an efficiency and unsmilingness about it that was probably always there, but it feels more accusational now. Prove that you’re not a bad guy.
There are pork pies and chocolate Digestives, though. And that makes Britain ace. Currently my iPod is on shuffle. Rockerfeller Skank by Fatboy Slim just started. This song seems perfectly British to my tipsy ears. Crude and sophisticated. Stupid and clever. This is the first time I’ve been back in England for over a year and a half. Previously, living in Germany, there was a common European feeling that made the difference between the countries slighter. And visiting the UK after living in the States for a while, it only seemed superficially different. There are similarities between the two nations. But coming here from Mexico, the differences seem kinda big. I could point to specific examples, but it’s more like a feeling in my head.
I’ve been enjoying talking. A lot. I kinda think I’m a different person in Mexico. Tonight, for example, my friend and I spend a few hours together and we went all over the place with our conversation. But with my failure to get to grips with the Spanish language means I don’t really do that in Mexico. I feel like more of an observer. I tell myself that I just LOVE speaking English, but mostly, it’s probably because I’m too lazy, distracted, whatever, to properly give a shit about learning Spanish. I really need to give that a go. Do it properly or just leave Mexico, and live somewhere where English is spoken.
And sometimes, it feels like England could be that place. For all the positive reenforcement-y thoughts I have about England being shit, I do wonder if I’m just denying myself an opportunity to be properly happy. It is my home, after all. I have friends here, who I enjoy spending time with. The fact that a Travelcard costs more during the rush hour (a depressing thing, and something that seems indicative of this country’s ability to take just a little bit more money out of your wallet whenever possible) should not, really, compare when it comes to deciding where to live.
I’ve been in London for about a week now. I had big plans to make the most of my time. Galleries, seeing as many friends as possible. But on the whole, I’ve been happy to just sit around with my mates John and Sarah, and their two lovely daughters, and kinda have a break. I would love to go through the list of friends I want to see, have a packed social life, go out in Soho or Islington or the East End every night, but it’s exhausting. And one of my favourite things in the world is the knowledge that if John and I sit on the sofa watching telly, there’ll be some point in the evening where I’ll get the giggles and be laughing for ages. And that has happened several times since I’ve been here. It’s like a massage for my brain, that. And like you feel better after you’ve had a good cry, I feel so much better after a good giggle.
That feeling in my gut is back, a feeling I lost when I spent seven months continually travelling in 2008, and it’s a feeling that I’ve managed to keep at bay since then. That feeling of dreading a journey. Mostly this is because of the idiotic security at airports making them wholly unpleasant places to be. But that’s not all of it. I have never lost that inability to sleep the night before a flight. Doesn’t matter if I drink less coffee, and have a couple of beers to make me sleepier. I go to bed around midnight, watch a movie to help me doze off. But it doesn’t work. I lay there twitching, awake, and totally aware that I need. To. Sleep. Now. And I’ll fret about sleeping through the alarm, but I never do. I’m awake three hours before I need to leave the apartment. And because I’m all packed and ready to go, there’s really nowt to do.
But the journey to the airport felt nice. I don’t really think of Mexico City as that alien a place any more. It’s still not entirely home, but it’s definitely not a strange, unknown place. Occasionally, though, I’ll be reminded of what it felt like the first time I visited. Something about the air, the smell, and the journey along the road near to the hotel. I see buildings that normally I don’t see. Industrial buildings, auto repair shops, half-finished buildings, restaurants that I will never eat in next to eight lanes of traffic, and when the road is elevated, a view over the top of buildings, so, through the smog, I can see a few landmarks that mark out parts of the city that I know, and other buildings that make me wonder is what up in that part of the city.
A tip for non-Americans flying from Mexico to anywhere: do it on Thanksgiving. Mexico City airport was pretty much the emptiest I’ve ever seen an international airport in the daytime. I walked straight up to the check-in desk. Got my boarding pass, went outside for one last smoke, and then to the security thingy. No queue there, either. The four lanes of security were empty. I was the only person there, so it was kind of nice to do the stripping off of shoes, belt, jacket, wallet, iPod, metal things, and removing my laptop; doing all of that without the hurried feeling of someone behind me nudging the tray along the conveyor belt area.
If you are like me – a curmudgeon – you’ll pick someone to hate in the departure lounge. Sometimes it’s tough (for example, in San Salvador on a flight to Belize City), but most of the time, it’s pretty easy. There’ll be someone who you just don’t like the look of. This time it was a guy with slicked-back hair barking into his Blackberry and walking up and down the rows of seats. Obviously his conversation was incredibly important, because he was kind enough to share it with everyone waiting for the flight.
They announced that passengers who need assistance and The Super Duper Better People could board the plane. Then the folks at the back, and then the folks in the middle. Usually, when you’re in that last group of people, there’s just a ton of scrambling, people neeeeeeding to be on the plane right now. But, with the whole Thanksgiving thing, there weren’t many of us. The plane itself was only about a third full. I had an entire row to myself. (Even though Thanksgiving can’t really explain why a flight that doesn’t stop at all in the U.S. would be so empty.)
The pilot came on the PA system, and introduced himself as Craig Something. I kind of felt a wee bit safer knowing we shared a name. He’d not let a fellow Craig die in a flaming mess of metal and cliff face.
Now that there are the fancy touch screen entertainment systems on planes (which, as a user experience, are even worse than using the iTunes store), with all the different movies, TV shows, music etc., it’s pretty difficult not to be entertained during a flight. They had “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” on there. It’s always gonna trump pretty much 99% of movie possibilities, that one. (“Those aren’t pillows!”)
Crappy lasagne. And then watched some of Cowboys and Aliens. Got about 45 minutes in and it was just kinda dull. There’s this moment early on, when they’ve been talking about a character, we know this character is powerful, and when we finally see him, the camera is behind him, the music swells, he turns around, and it’s Harrison Ford. Isn’t it a bit odd to include something in a story that is solely about us recognising an actor from other stuff? Aren’t you essentially saying, “Ta-da! Look! It’s Han Solo stroke Indiana Jones!”? And while Olivia Wilde is clearly an attractive human, I couldn’t quite get it out of my head that she looked a bit like the singer from Fields of the Nephilim.
I gave up on the movie, and stared out of the window, and watched the map thingy. Flying over the United States is enjoyable. And my brain does something that reminds me of when I worked for a record distribution company. Back then, if I met someone from, say, Chatham in Kent, I would know that their local record shop was called Loco. And now, being a fan of an American sports, I see towns on a map, and the journey is a beautiful collection of major league teams, minor league teams, defunct teams, Negro League teams: Pelicans, Black Barons, Biscuits, Lookouts, Redbirds, Sounds, Hot Rods, Colonels, Reds, Clippers, Indians.
As we flew over Cleveland, I knew that my friend Pete – who lives in New York, but is from Cleveland – would be somewhere in the sodium glow beneath me. It’s funny to think that he and I email each other pretty much daily, and we’ve only met once, two years ago, which was after a handful of work-related emails lead to us having a meeting, and this moment, 30,000 feet in the air, was the closest we’d been to each other since then.
As the plane got closer to its destination, we got lower and lower, the light pollution reflecting off the underside of the clouds created a nice effect where it was like looking out at some sort of nebula. Like when you’ve got a cheap duvet which has got a bit lumpy, and you look through it and some bits are darker. And there’s lots of white and orange points, street lights and buildings. But the cloud cover meant I couldn’t see the CN Tower. Toronto is kinda non-descript from the air at night.
This obviously will sound stupid to people who live in countries that have well-defined seasons, but after a year and a half being in a country where the winters are mild, and wearing a sweater is the most you’d ever really need in November or December, it was a nice novelty walking out of the airport and breathing in cold, crisp air. But, this is getting long, and this journey was a week ago, and I’ve been too busy to write about anything else. Not that I’ve done a huge amount. Hanging out with friends, mostly. And now I’m boring myself, so I will stop typing.
I’m in Toronto. Flew here on Monday. The alarm went off at 7am. Took a moment to realise that it was the day of my flight, that I couldn’t hit snooze, that I had had had to get out of bed. I’m not good at filling time, though, between being ready for something, and that thing beginning. With 15 minutes to kill before the cab was due, I could’ve sat down, read something, but no: I went downstairs and stood outside the building and just waited. Taxi came, suitcase in the boot, off to the airport. About 20 metres down the road, he confirmed that I was the guy he was supposed to pick up from apartment 305. I told him that was the case. I was lying. That’s not my apartment. I’d taken someone else’s cab. Oh well, it’s not like Señor 305 won’t have a cab waiting to take him to the airport in a few minutes. I
At the airport, the Air Canada desk wasn’t open. I was the tenth person in the queue. As soon as the dudes came along to open the check-in, I was the 25th person in the queue. Several of the folks in front of me had been saving a spot for their travelling companions, one of which was saving a spot for a bunch of nine school children. Got it done, changed my aisle seat for a window seat, and outside for a smoke. Still two and a half hours til my flight, but I can’t relax. Even when I not relaxing, I’m aware that I am not relaxing. Damn annoying. I smoked fast, stubbed out half the cigarette and went through security. All the time knowing, I should just sit down, get a coffee, and relax, maybe have a read, use my laptop, and bide my time so I can have another cigarette with, say, an hour to go. Nope. Not me. Idiot.
Bought some duty free cigs and a bottle of mezcal. Listen to podcasts and waited. On the flight, got my seat, strapped in, cracked open my book, and the stewardess asked if I wanted to sit in the seat next to the emergency exit, the one without a seat directly in front, because the Asian woman currently sitting there didn’t speak English, French, or Spanish. Yes, please. Lots of legroom for the four and a half hour flight. Sweet.
Enjoyable flight, too. Watched “The Fighter,” read a little, flipped off the United States as we flew over it and ahead of schedule — actually, on schedule, but we left twenty minutes late — I could see the CN Tower and SkyDome out of the window. I could see a park I played softball in last summer, I could see the neighbourhood where I stayed for five months. It was exciting. Of course, I was a tiny bit paranoid that I’d lied on the customs form. I had brought more than the allowed 200 cigarettes with me. But goddamn it, I’m not paying $10 for a pack when they cost about a third of that in Mexico.
Somewhere between the Air Canada desk at Benito Juárez International Airport and the baggage claim area of Pearson International Airport, one of the four wheels on my suitcase got broken off. Which made a bit difficult to manoeuvre around, so instead of using public transport, I treated myself to a cab. Nice cab driver, too. Friendly Punjabi guy. We chatted all the way to my friend Scott’s house. Toronto is hot. Hotter than it was when I left Mexico City. Which is kinda strange when one looks at a map.
But it is fantastic to be back here, if only for three weeks. It’s been wonderful to walk along the street and hear people speaking English. It’s been wonderful to see familiar things again. Great to see some of the friends I made last time I was here. Great to drink the expensive beer. And great to be here for what is pretty much entirely vacation, rather than busting myself every day to write the book last summer. I signed some stock in a book store here (Chapters, on John St., next to the cinema, in case you are a Torontonian and want one), and I participated in the Getting Blanked podcast, talking about me me me and baseball. And tonight, I’ll be heading to the SkyDome to see the first of four Blue Jays v. Yankees games I’ll be seeing this weekend.
It’s great to be back.
Like the up-to-the-minute fella I am, I’ve recently been enjoying the Arctic Monkeys’ debut album. Quite good. And I’m especially enjoying hearing an accent similar to my own. Well, it’s not the accent, it’s the words, and some of the pronunciation. Phrases like “got a face on” totally remind me of being back home. And the song title “Mardy Bum” makes me smile no end. And hearing the word “doesn’t” pronounced like “dunt” and, in the same vein, “couldn’t” becomes a word that most people find rather rude.
Long weekend here, like most Easter-celebrating countries (although, interestingly, the weekend here was Thursday-Sunday, not Friday-Monday) so I got out of the city for a couple of days. Went to a town called Puebla which is a couple of hours away, east-southeast of here. I went with my pal Sam and his parents. We went because we wanted to see some baseball. One of the things I’m hoping to do while I’m here is see as many ballparks as possible. With the well-documented issues in the north of Mexico, there are some ballparks that I won’t be visiting; it’s just not safe enough. But nine teams of the fourteen teams are in the south. Sam and his dad are Tigres de Quintana Roo fans, and they were the visiting team, in town to play the Pericos (Parrots) de Puebla.
Up at 6.30 am on Friday to meet Sam, get the Metro to a bus station, then bounced along the road in the fairly filthy bus seats (felt dirty and damp like when you’ve worn the same pair of jeans for way too long) to his folks’ place north of here in a tiny village called Oro del Agua. Uchepos (in the same family as tamales) for breakfast, and we were off on the fairly new road that skirts the city. And considering it was a holiday, the road was pretty darn empty. A nice trip through the yellow-ochre countryside, past Popocatapetl and Iztaccihuatl, a pair of big volcanoes, and into the Puebla metropolitan area.
Puebla is the fourth largest city in Mexico, but as a weekend visitor, one didn’t really get that feeling. All I saw was the cute downtown area and the view from a taxi window as we went back and forth to the ballpark. We dumped our stuff at the hotel, and went straight out to walk around and get some food. The downtown area is old and pretty. Apparently, Puebla is famous for it’s crafts and tiled buildings. Lots of very beautiful pottery and stuff. And the tiled buildings were lovely. In fact, lots of pretty buildings.
We went to eat at a place called Mesones Sacristía. And I ate my favourite Mexican dish, mole poblano, which originated in Puebla. Fa fa fa fucking delicious it was, too. That big lump under the brown sauce is a chicken breast. That some big ol’ chicken titty right there.
I was stuffed after that. But, one must solider on, and soldier on I did. To the ballpark for some baseball watchin’. The Pericos ballpark, Estadio de Béisbol Harmanos Serdán, stands in the shadows of the way larger soccer stadium, and it’s a nice wee park. Baseball here quite clearly isn’t awash with the money that the major leagues have, and you can see it in the ballparks. The two I’ve been to so far are old, rough around the edges, functional. But this one is way nicer than the capital city’s park. It’s smaller, so seven or eight thousand people seems like a lot, and the atmosphere is better. Part of that, I assume, is down to the friendliness one experiences when one leaves a huge city.
For the first game, we sat around the third base line. It was baking hot, and we found four seats that were just about in the shade. But that had us sat right behind the dudes with the drums, sirens, and big flags. Not as bad as one would imagine. They made a lot of noise and kept the crowd pumped up. And rather that that incessant blaring of music of the PA, (although that did happen, too). It’s one of the things I find strange about baseball in the majors, especially coming from a European background of watching soccer: as the crowd gets going with organic chanting, singing, cheering, the dude in control of the PA will completely destroy it by pressing the We Will Rock You button.
Anyway, the Pericos got off to a great start, Mauricio Lara throw four no-hit innings. In the fifth, he loaded the bases, but got out of it without coughing up any runs. By that time, they were 3-0 up, and tacked on a couple more in the bottom of the seventh as the sky darkened, and the rain came lashing down. Absolutely pissing it down. The tarp came out and, oh, it kinda only reached over half of the infield. They didn’t even bother covering the mound. I assumed there was no way the game would be finished, yet no announcement came, which seemed odd as the third base and home plate areas became big puddles.
All the while, the crowd, though, kept themselves entertained. Most of the people in our section were chatting away to each other, and a gregarious fella kept inviting ladies to dance in the aisles. An old timer was dancing on his own, too. Over an hour after the players left the field, the grounds crew came out, removed the tarp, put more dirt down, repainted the lines, and the game resumed. One final out in the bottom of the seventh, six straight outs in the eighth, and a fly ball, single, and double play ended the game. After a ninety minute delay, the game was over in fifteen minutes.
Feeling not that great after a belly full of mole and cervezas, bought some Tums, and we had another wee walk around. Lots of tourists. A fair amount of Americans and Europeans in town, too. Still, it was Easter, and it was around 9 pm and a lot of restaurants were closed, so we sat down on plastic seats next to a woman making chalupas on the street. I have a bit of a thing about having dirty or sticky hands. And watching this woman make chalupa after chalupa with greasy hands made me cringe, just thinking about what it would be like. Pretty tasty stuff, mind.
An early night, which was a good thing, seeing as though around eight in the morning, a loud van kept driving down the street. It was selling gas and blaring music and shouting that gas was for sale. Huevos mexicano for breakfast, and then we went on a tour bus around the city. Look! A church! And an old building! And another! All pretty, and it’s a nice quick way to see the city, but my mind tends to turn off and focus on other things. Tthat handmade sign, the table in the room, that guy’s jeans, and—who am I kidding?—the view of that woman’s cleavage from the top of this open-top bus.
Time for more baseball. My Tigres-supporting pals were hoping for a better showing than the four hits they got on Friday. Back on the third base side of things. Another thing that is different in Puebla is how the beer is served. In Mexico City, it’s in paper Corona-branded cups. Here, there’s no mucking about: they give you the can.
As with fans in Mexico City, there are plenty of MLB teams represented in merchandise. Some of the merchandise, though, isn’t spelled as well as one would hope.
The guy above wearing the Cleeveland Indians t-shirt, I asked him if I could take his photograph. I spluttered in crappy Spanish that a good friend of mine is an Indians fan (true), and that I hadn’t seen many Indians fans in Mexico (exaggeration) and it’d be great if I could show him there were fans here (lie, I just wanted to take a pic of his badly-spelled shirt). He said no, so I spent a not-insignificant amount of my camera’s memory card taking high-speed burst photos surrupticiously, eventually getting a pic as he left to get some food.
That same Indians-supporting friend and I share an interest: baseball caps which feature a character wearing a different cap. The Pericos have such a cap, so I went to the store to buy one on Friday. At the time I was wearing a Montreal Expos cap. A shop assistant excitedly pointed out that they had an Expos jersey. I got the distinct feeling that it had been hung up in the racks for a while. They didn’t take credit cards, so on Saturday, I went back, bought the Expos jersey, and a rather excellent book, “Enciclopedia del Béisbol Mexicano.” Full of statistics of about every LMB season up to 1992. Bedtime reading for quite some time to come, and hopefully, I’ll get a graphic about Mexican baseball out of it, too.
I’m quite sure I’m not alone in this, but whenever I go to a new ballpark, I like to walk around, watch the game from various parts of the park, so my pal Sam and I went for a wander to the outfield bleachers. The batter’s eye has a walkway connecting the left- and right-field bleachers, which was, rather understandably, fairly intriguing. (Just in case: the batter’s eye is a dark area behind the outfield fence so that when the pitcher throws the ball, the batter has a better view of it; kinda like the white screen they use in cricket.) When I got dead center, I crouched down, rested my camera on the wall and started snapping away.
And then came an announcement: “A las personas que están en la zona negra, las invitamos a pasar a sus lugares.” A couple of the players turned around, and my mate said, “They’re talking to us, we have to move.” Obviously, we shouldn’t really have been there in the middle of the batter’s eye while the game was in progress, but, y’know, you put a walkway there, you’re essentially inviting gringos to take pictures. I did feel a little guilty, though.
The game itself was kinda similar to Friday’s. Except the Puebla pitching was even better this time, Andres Meza throwing a complete game shutout, allowing 3 hits, a walk, and striking out nine. Taxi back to the hotel, Sam and I bid farewell to his folks who were staying another night, and we hoped in a taxi to the bus station to come back to the big city. On the bus they showed the film Are We Done Yet? starring Ice Cube and John C. McGinley. Even dubbed into Spanish, it was fairly easy to see it was a shit film.
(One thing that is interesting for me about this blog post is that I wrote it after doing the purely baseball post, parts of which are incorporated here, that I posted on Flip Flop Fly Ball. I find this blah-de-blah non-baseball writing so much easier to do.)
More photos from Belize on Flickr.
Here’s a handful of photos from my Belize trip. On the Flickr.
Last sunrise before heading back to Mexico. I was up at 5.30, so got to see it all. Sat at the end of the pier watching some clouds on the horizon, which first gave up a red sliver, and within the space of two minutes gave way to the complete red sun.
A quick chug down of coffee, and we were in the car heading back to Belize City. After five relaxing days at the beach, it was nice to get one last journey where I could see some jungle. The time of day meant we spent a lot of time behind school buses, taking children from tiny villages to do some book learnin’.
We passed a man trying to hitch a ride outside of Hattieville prison. Good luck with that one, dude. Although, I’m fairly sure the one place an escaped prisoner would be stood around trying to hitch a ride is directly outside the prison he just escaped from.
Dropped off the car, into the terminal. Despite being ready for an argument about the exit fee a couple of days ago, I just couldn’t be arsed when it came down to it. I just coughed up the US dollars like a compliant tourist.
I’d be interested to know why security is different at different airports. Some allow cigarette lighters, some don’t. Shoes off or on?
No air conditioning in the departure lounge. Bit sweaty. Nipped into the duty free shop a couple of times to make use of their A/C and to absent mindedly look at bottles of alcohol that I can never be arsed to buy (carry, more truthfully), and ther fine fine fine selection of Swarovski crystal animals.
Spent my last Belizean dollars, no point in having it any more. Truthfully, as nice as Belize can be in places, this will probably be the last visit for a while. Too many other places I’ve not been to to bother going again any time soon. Plus, next time I need some beach, Mexico is likely a cheaper option. And the quesadillas are better.
Bought an airport coffee. Basic rule of life: if adding enough milk to a paper cup of coffee to make it look at least semi-appetising shade of brown, if that makes the cup so full that it is impossible to lift without spilling it and scolding your fingers, the coffee is gonna be horrible.
Bought a bottle of Marie Sharp’s habanero sauce with the last remaining dollars. And with that it was time to bid farewell to Kraig and Barbara. Lovely to spend time with friends, and hopefully the next time I see them it will be because the US visa people has decided I can visit the country again.
Guy next to me on the first of my three flights (Belize City to San Salvador; to San Jose; and then to Mexico City) had a baseball cap with a curvy, presumably naked, women on it with the word “Skin” across it in a gothic font. We did okay with sharing the arm rest, despite the occasional uncomfortable feeling of his arm hairs on my arm. Presumably, it was the same for him with my arm hairs. Sadly, though, he kinda had bad breath, and when he dozed off for twenty minutes or so, he kinda did so with an open mouth, breathing in my direction.
I lost my Swiss Army knife midway through the vacation. It’s somewhere in Belize. Hopefully someone finds it as useful as I did. Just an object, I know, but it was my object. I bought it in a hardware store on Schoenhauser Allee in Berlin, and it went everywhere with me for the last three years. It was always on my desk when I was working and I genuinely used it every day for something. Obviously, I can get a new one, but, y’know, sentimental value.
When we were coming in to San Salvador airport, the flight flew past the city so it could land coming from the west. Looking out of the window, a guy near me exclaimed loudly, “That’s the old Pacific Ocean right there.” No shit.
An hour or so layover. Back to the bar where smoking is allowed. A couple of beers. A Salvadorean brand, Pilsener. S’alright.
I’ve never spent any time in El Salvador, but this was my sixth time flying through the airport. And each time I’ve been struck, that there are some truly beautiful women here. Every person’s tastes are different, but for me, I really should plan a vacation in El Salvador.
Sat in the lounge waiting to board, staring out at the skywalk, I had one of those moments where you realise the vastness of the world: there are companies out there that make skywalks. There are companies out there that make exit signs. Cotton reels. Toothpicks. Those little plastic battery operated fans. Paperclips. So many people working all over the world making more and more stuff. Still, as long as there’s a company out there that still make porno playing cards, we’re gonna be alright as a species, I reckon.
Rows one, two, and three board first. Then bunches of ten rows, working from the back to the front. It’s always an interesting socialogical moment boarding a plane. You look at the first class passengers, they look at you. They look smug, and seem to look down on the plebs. But maybe that’s all in my mind. That little curtain, though, allows the rest of us to know who to kill first when the revolution comes.
I was flying with an airline called Taca which, presumably, is the feminine form of taco. It’s kind of churlish to complain about specific airlines; on the whole, they all suck in some regard, but, the miserable cunt at the Taca desk in Belize gave me middle seats on two of the three flights even though both of those flights were barely half full. Twat. (Of course, as soon as the seatbelt signs were turned off, I was up and out to window seats near the back.)
And on the booking confirmation, there needs to be some sort of law that you simply can not list “brunch” as the meal and serve a teeny packet of nuts. That is not fucking brunch. If we were to employ the same nomenclature standards to the flight itself, it’d mean I’d be using a pogo stick to get to Mexico.
Thankfully, having three flights afforded me the chance to have brunch twice and an evening meal. The second brunch was different. Maybe because it was 3pm and no-one eats brunch at that time of day. Brunch number two was a bread roll with slices of carrot inside. And something else. Something viscous. No idea what it was, though. Like gravy dressed up as melted cheese at a fancy dress party.
And another thing, Taca: clean your fucking windows. In this world where the governments and their idiotic, theatrical attempts to persuade us we are safe has taken the vast majority of the joy out of flying, looking out of the window at clouds, lakes, fields, and towns is one of the few things left to enjoy. Gimme a rag and some Windolene and I’ll do my own window if it’s that much fucking trouble. We certainly can’t enjoy the entertainment on this flight, restricted as we are to drop-down screens showing “Two and a Half Men.” Seriously. When was the last time you went on a flight and that paltry show wasn’t on one of the channels?
As the flight approached San Jose, I took some photos out of the window. Mostly because I’d noticed a setting for aerial photos and I wanted to compare normal vs. aerial settings. Not bad, as it goes. Boosted the contrast a bit and seemed to be more colourful. Interestingly, though, when I chose that setting, a message came up on the camera screen: “Turn off the camera during takeoff and landing. Follow the instruction of cabin attendant.” I don’t like an inanimate object telling me what to do. So I took a couple of pics after we’d been told to turn off electronic devices, just to show my camera who’s the boss.
Never been to Costa Rica. But now I can say I’ve been on Costa Rican land. In the San Jose airport, anyway. Had two hours to kill before the third flight. Had a mooch around. And, oooh, a sign for a smoking bar. It was called Nimbus Lounge. Lots of blue light and lots of smokers. They didn’t seem to stop people from standing inside the door to chug down a quick cig, but I sat down. Sitting down, you had to spend a minimum of three dollars. I ordered a domestic beer. Imperial. Nowt special. Five bastard dollars, though. I only had twenty US dollars with me. I’d spent eight in San Salvador. And this five left me with..? Anyone? Anyone? Yes, Charlie? “Seven dollars, Sir.” Correct. Still, the TV was playing “In a Big Country” by Big Country, which I quite like. It soon switched stuff I didn’t know. Spent five of those dollars on a double cheeseburger from Burger King and left for my final leg of the trip with two useless dollars in my pocket.
Nothing even worth mentioning about the flight to Distrito Federal, really. Moved from my middle seat to an empty row of seats to spread out a bit. Watched an episode of “CSI: Miami” and typed these words whilst listening to Vampire Weekend’s second album which I’m enjoying more and more. May not have the highlights of the first record, but on the whole, way more consistent. I’m being told to put my seat in its upright position now. Mexico City beckons.
I’ve never really got to grips with how I should handle myself when I return to a hotel room and the maid is in there. A cheery hello, a polite smile, and the overacting of I’m-just-getting-something. I exit the room and do something for ten minutes or so, aimless wandering or sitting and waiting somewhere. All the time, though, all I can think about is getting back into the room and dropping the kids off at the pool, which, well, it’d be rude to destroy her sterling work while she’s in the room, wouldn’t it?
Sitting in the hammock in the palapa at the end of the pier. There are two hammocks and a two-seated wooden swingy thing there. Whenever I’ve seen people using one of the loungin’ options, I’ve put on hold my desire to go out there. It just seems a bit weird to encroach on someone’s relaxation. Like in a small hotel pool; if someone else is using it, I don’t really want to bug them by working on my cannonballs. Not so, though, with an older American gent, who harshed my mellow by standing at the edge of the palapa and dropping a fish hook attached to a small reel of line into the sea. I’ve swum around the end of the pier before. It’s knee depth at best. He caught nothing. And with another man present (me), by catching nothing he announced to the world that he is useless at fishing. Thus useless at providing for his woman. And he’d be too weak to defend his family. And not able to defend his position as leader of his tribe and village. I can therefore go to his town and take over. I will assume the role of alpha male. And I will institute laws allowing me to do what the fuck I want. (My reign will be based on the reign of King Mswati III of Swaziland: loads of wives and cars for me, while my people live in poverty and die of AIDS.) He’ll soon wish he never walked onto MY pier. The funniest thing, though, was when he dropped the reel and it rolled all the way across the pier floor and plopped into the water. Holding the thread in his hand, he started to try and pull the reel out of the water, all the time just pulling more and more line off of the reel, which was more than likely stuck in the sand on the sea bed. (Sea bed seems like too dramatic a name for sand that’s a foot or so beneath the surface, though, right?)
I did work on my cannonballs in the pool, though. The hotel emptied out on Sunday, so at 10am there was virtually no-one around. Got some good height and big splashes going on.
Some bobbing around was in order. Bob bob bob. I backed into a corner, supported myself with my hands on the side of the pool and hummed “Also sprach Zarathustra” to myself and pretended my feet were monoliths (duoliths?) rising from the ocean. Nice to feel the change in temperature, from cool to warm as the sun hits the feet.
“Club Tropicana” by Wham! A song that my childhood self thought of as the epitome of what being an adult on holiday abroad was like. At the age of twelve, some 28 years ago, the farthest afield I’d even been was a school trip to a small town on the northern coast of France called Le Portel. (It was a trip for us to practice our French. I remember being amazed that morning coffee came in a big big cup with no handle, and mostly that there were topless sunbathers on the beach.) And I remember thinking the “Club Tropicana” 7″ single had a nice sleeve of a tropical palm tree beach scene. Even though the chorus clearly states that “all that’s missing is the sea.” Of course, the second verse does mention that one can “watch the waves break on the bay” and that there is “soft white sands” and “a blue lagoon.” Really, that song needed a fact checker. Still love it, though.
For a change of scenery I moved from the pool that is nearest to my room, to the pool near the bar. Dripping on the sand for the 30 second walk.
Stood at one end of the pool, opening the top of my shorts to let it fill up, the squeezing the crotch to let the bubbles float out.
Again I was alone in the pool so I waded around in the bouyant way one can do in a pool, pretending I was walking on the moon.
I spent some time zoning out, enjoying the light refracted in the water. And quite some time trying to be as still as possible so my feet looked normal under the water.
Strode around some more, this time pretending I was evolution occurring, from a blobby thing to a tadpole-y thing to a fish, to a frog, and leaping out of the pool, missing a few steps in the evolutionary chain, to being a short-sighted English human groping for a towel and his glasses.
Got back in and did some laps. Breast stroke, of course. The lazy man’s swimming style. Wondered which freak ever invented butterfly. Fucking idiot. And more than that, how in the hell such a style of swimming became an Olympic sport.
Out in the kayak for a change of pace. I had no plans for a specific journey; just fancied paddling around in the sunshine. I got about 50 metres from the shore and noticed something floating. It couldn’t be what I think it is, could it? That looks like… a piece of poo. (Or as the iPod just autocorrected: a piece of pop.) I paddled away, and saw another. And then another. And soon enough I was surrounded on all sides by chod. And slowly, the poops started coming up through the little holes in the bottom of the kayak. The craft was filling up with faeces. And as it filled up, the kayak started to sink. The stench was unbearable, but I was powerless. Down and down I went until all that was above the crap stew was my head. A sudden, swift feeling around my ankles and I was dragged under. I had just enough time for one last gasp of air, and held my breath. My eyes were closed, but I could sense the darkness above me, as a canopy of plops blocked the sunlight. I was dragged down and down until I became aware that I was no longer in water. There was air. I opened my eyes and saw I was inside a hut. It had clay walls. A tiny man—about the size of a Tickle-me Elmo— beckoned me to follow him through a door that was big enough for a human. I entered a big hall. Lining the walls were gold-framed oil paintings of turds. We kept on walking, towards a door at the other end of the hall. The tiny man smiled, and beckoned me excitedly. He looked like he knew what I was getting for Christmas, and that I would love it, and he was dying to tell me. Through the second door, we entered a short corridor, and through a third door, into a room that looked not unlike one of the weirdly fake-looking bedrooms they have in IKEA. Lounging on the bed was another small man. He was wearing a crown, though. The first man shook my hand and left. The man in the crown cleared his throat.
“Mr. Robinson, I’m glad you could join me. I’ve been wanting to talk to you for quite some time,” he said.
“Really?” I said.
“Really. You see, I’ve been paying attention to you for many years. And you use the word ‘shit’ way too much. And ‘crap.’ And ‘poo.’ And ‘turds.’ And sometimes ‘ploppy.’ You use these words like they are bad things. And you seem to be amused by them, too.”
“Well, they are kinda gross. And funny.”
“But to us in the Fecalworld, it is offensive when you say ‘poo.’”
He kept on talking for a while, but I didn’t really notice much of what he was saying; all I could think about was trying not to laugh at him saying “poo.”
“… so if you could try to keep the toilet talk to a minimum in future, we’d greatly appreciate it. We don’t expect you to stop altogether, but, an effort would be appreciated.”
“Er, okay. I’ll do my best.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Robinson.”
And with that, the first man re-entered the room and lead me back through the doors to the hut. He smiled a last smile, shook my hand, and jerked his hand towards the roof, and I was instantly back in my kayak on the surface of the sea. Not a poo in sight.
Coming back to shore, Dean, the Virginian gentleman I spoke to the other day, shouted and asked if there were any fish out there. He called me Clive. I didn’t have the heart to correct him. (I once vaguely knew a guy in Lincoln, and the first time he got my name wrong, calling me Carl, I didn’t correct him. He called me Carl for three years before I left town and have never seen him since.)
Back to the pool. Even at its deepest, you couldn’t drown, so I walked the whole length in the style of John Cleese. You know the walk I mean.
Off by the steps up to the pool there was an iguana. I got out to get my camera and he scampered off. Iguanas look funny from behind when they run.
I spent a not insignificant amount of time pondering my finger nails under the water.
I inched along the edge of the pool, looking at the grains of sand around the edge. At the right angle, and focussing right up close, the grains look like cars on a vast open landscape, like an architectural model.
And then, oh no, the Chuck Palahniuk short story, “Guts” popped into my head. I tried to empty my mind. Stood in the pool. Tried to think of nothing at all. Specifically not “Guts.”
Empty the head. Think of nothing. Don’t think about thinking about nothing. I would’ve gotten further had the thought of lunch not popped into my mind. So it was time for a burger and a couple of beers.
Lunch, and a nice wee chat with a couple from Toronto, and I was back to the grindstone. After watching the dude fishing earlier, I had some interest in fishing myself. So I went to the end of the pier, sat down, and watched pelicans flying around and diving into the sea to grab a fish. Several of them did it while I was there, the closest dove into the water just ten feet or so away from me. It was nice to watch him lift his head and swallow his lunch, before flap flap flap and away he went for a second helping. A tiny school of fish were swimming under my dangling feet. There must’ve been about 30 fish there. Each one silvery in colour, and about two centimetres in length. They weren’t making much headway, though; the waves were bashing them backwards all the time. I decided to have a closer look, and slipped into the sea as stealthily as a horse trying to sneak out of fifth floor hotel room at the National Horse-Spotting Convention. And the fish darted off, showing that they were jet being lazy before.
Time for a shower. The shower cubicle and indeed, the whole bathroom, has a horrible tile. It’s got a brown to tan gradient, and has relief splodges that are supposed to look like water drops on the tile, with highlights and shadows. Except, the master craftsman who tiled the bathroom put them on upside down. It makes me chuckle to imagine at what point he realised that he had messed up.
Back to the bar for a late afternoon beer. I’ve been playing a game with myself, thinking of which famous people could be the parents of the bar staff. One dude looks like his folks would be Forest Whitaker and Martin Lawrence. Another looks like they are Jamie Foxx and Pookie off “The Wire,” and another looks like Eddie Murphy and New York Yankees player Curtis Granderson would be his parents.
Into Placencia for an ice cream. Kraig and Barbara mentioned they wanted to check out a crafts store, and did I want to come along. Yep, cool; I need something to scoff at. And as we walked along I was lucky enough to hear some Nickelback while I was there. That’s real music. None of your poncey electronic disco music. Good, solid, chunky, stodgy rock music. Canada is like Germany like that. With Germany it’s easy to jokingly assume they all like David Hasselhof and the Scorpions. And with Canada, the brain just flicks to Nickelback, Bryan Adams, and Celine Dion. Stupid, really. Especially seeing as though I’ve got ten Neil Young albums on my iPod.
Could’ve bought all kinds of shite at the craft shop. Seashell necklaces, a woven wallet, a keyring in the shape of a flip flop with a sunset on it, or a baseball cap in Rasta colours. Or a CD of a Belizean musician called Titiman. Snigger. They didn’t have them here, but you know those seaside joke gifts that are like an empty jar with a sticker on that says Real Seaside Air or something. I think I should set up an Etsy store selling them, just with a sticker saying The Breath of Authentic Misanthropic Scoffing.
Stopped off on the way back to the hotel to buy a couple of big bars of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, the best chocolate in the world—suck it, Switzerland!—a brand that I’ve never seen on sale in Mexico.
One last swim to cool off a little. An beautifully executed cannonball, too. Laps. Twenty of them. I guess the pool is about seven metres long, so however you look at it, it was quite a meagre amount of swimming. But, as dusk turned to night, a fitting way to end a hot hot hot day.
After dinner, a stroll along the beach. The sky has been clear here, and the stars are really bright. You can see beyond the constellations, and, for example, the hundreds of stars framed by the corners of Orion. It’s pretty darn cool.
And the day was finished off with a nice pink Benadryl to help with the still slightly swollen after effects of the doctor fly bite on my hand. Combined with a couple of beers: nice and drowsy snoozey time.
For some reason, in the bottom of my travel toiletries bag, covered in toothpaste juice stains, there was a tiny unopened plastic packet containing E.A.R Soft SuperFit ear plugs. I was lying in bed last night, drawing and listening to My Bloody Valentine, and I thought about the ear plugs: Am I just imagining it, or are they in my toiletries bag? I’d got the ear plugs in 2009, when my ex and I went to see My Bloody Valentine play in Seattle. I’d grabbed a few pairs from the baskets outside the area where the band would be playing, mostly because they were pretty. Bright yellow with an orange band and nice and squishy. I broke them out, and thus—placebo or not—had a lovely night’s sleep. I love the dreams, those that you cling onto the lovely feeling all day long, where something good happens. In mine I met a Bulgarian woman, a woman who I recognised. She had short brown hair, strong cheekbones and lovely dark eyes. And we recognised each other from college. She was the border guard as I entered Monaco. And she had a smile that stayed with me into the awake part of my day. All else I remember is that Monaco’s supermarket was really crappy, and the pools around the many, many fountains were all full of algae. Oh, and that I met a guy who seemed really friendly, and he wanted to blow me. And I let him.
Nice lazy day. Good to be having some lazy beach time. Spent a good deal of time alone in a hammock. And swinging in that hammock, in a palapa at the end of a pier, watching waves go by, I listened to DJ Earworm’s awesome “United States of Pop” songs—2007, 2008, and 2009 versions— and was singing to myself. The hotel restaurant wasn’t busy, and there was nobody in earshot, so I was singing moderately loudly. If, though, people had heard me, and weren’t aware of the Earworm mixes, they may have been confused. Not as confused as the Mayan woman who was walking behind on the beach a bit later must’ve been, though. She was trying to attract my attention so she could try and sell me some trinkets. As I walked along what I assumed was a deserted beach, I was listening to Ludacris’ “One More Drink” and singing the chorus: If I take one more drink/I’m gonna end up fuckin’ you/Is that what you wanna do, shorty.
Most inappropriate-for-the-beach music I’ve listened to so far on headphones: “The Holy Bible” by Manic Street Preachers.
Listening to “I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick makes me feel really nice inside my head.
I’ve never had an insect bite on a mole. I wonder if they deliberately avoid them for some reason? Are mosquitoes racist? Or have I just been lucky?
I bought some Flamin’ Hot Funyuns. I’ve eaten Funyuns before. They’re alright. But I do really like another of Frito Lay, Inc.’s products: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. So I figured I’d give them a go. The back of the packet says this:
Finally – the zesty taste of FUNYUNS® brand Onion Flavored Rings you’ve known for years has been set on FIRE!
FLAMIN’ HOT® FUNYUNS® brand Onion Flavored Rings deliver the crispy texture and shape of an onion ring with a sizzle that will set your mouth on fire.
Yep, they’re kinda spicy. Not as spicy as the Cheetos, but still pretty good. After eating a couple of handfuls, though, I noticed my mouth not actually on fire. I checked the packet for a disclaimer. There was none. The packet clearly stated that the snacks contained within would “set [my] mouth on fire.” There was no fire in my mouth. Not even anything resembling a fire. Just pinky-orange goop on my tongue. The sort of goop that looks like you’ve been eating a salmon-coloured Crayola crayon when you spit it out into the sea when you are swimming ten minutes later.
Late afternoon we took a boat trip. Most trips are kinda spendy, but an American dude with a good beard was doing a “sunset boat trip” around the lagoon for $25 (about eight quid). And very nice it was too. Saw a stingray leaping out of the water, lots of mangrove, and a very pleasant sunset, with a nice amount of clouds to make some lovely crepuscular rays. And it was nice to hear the wind making my beer bottle whistle, as I sat with legs dangling off the front of the boat, only momentarily dreaming that I was Simon Le Bon. The guy sailing the boat, the guy with the good beard, was called Jeff. He’d originally sailed a boat (a different one) all the way down here from Kansas City, which, by my calculations, is quite a long way. But man, that sounds like a cool trip to make.
We ate in a Mexican restaurant called Habanero’s. It was okay. It was kind of expensive, though. Belize seems to be expensive. Considering the country seems, at a cursory glance, to be only a couple of steps up from third world, the prices are only a couple of notches down from the prices in States and Canada. Certainly for me, living in Mexico, this has been an expensive holiday, only heightened by seeing the menu at a Mexican restaurant: tacos al pastor were BZ$23 (£7.32/€8.58/US$8.58/MX$142), whereas my excellent local taco restaurant sells them at 11.50 pesos each (£0.59/€0.70/US$0.95/BZ$1.86).
All of this, though is me mentally gearing up to have a good moan at the airport later this week. Belize has an exit fee that you must pay before getting your flight out of here. I’d been told it was 40 dollars and assumed that it meant BZ$40. But, checking online, it’s US dollars. Someone also told us we have to pay with US dollars. That is a currency openly used here, and it’s easy: two Belize equals one US. But if it is true that one has to pay the exit shakedown with US dollars, well, that’s inconvenient. Mostly because I’d rather get rid of my Belizean dollars. And, let’s not underestimate this, because sometimes, I kinda like to think of the mapped route of a heated discussion in advance. There’s an element of indignant apoplexy that I’m looking forward to expressing. Stupid, really. But, y’know, for a country that gains a not insignificant amount of money from tourism, it seems counterproductive that a visitor’s last impression of the country is to be tipped upside down for some last spending. I also wonder if having to pay in US dollars is a way to leave visitors with more Belizean dollars in their pocket than they’d anticipated, thus provoking gift shop and restaurant sales in the departure lounge to get rid of a currency tourists no longer need.
On a lighter note, I’ve got a doctor fly bite on my hand. All swollen and puffy. Feels like a big bruise. I will, I have been assured by a local, not die. Ever. I now have doctor fly DNA in my veins, and thus will be able to diagnose and treat any virus that attacks my body. I am now imortal. Which is nice to know. Maybe I’ll be alive long enough to see Liverpool win the league again. Maybe…
A bad night’s sleep left my grumpy and tired. When one is grumpy and tired, even the sunrise over the Caribbean Sea can go fuck itself. Yes, Sun, I’m talking to you, ya big hydrogen and helium-y bastard. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough. Yep, that’s what I thought: it’s easy to be a tough guy when you’re 149.6 million kilometres away and you’ve got Mercury and Venus to back you up.
Being here in Belize, having come here from Mexico in fact, is like reliving the start of my travels in 2008. And it’s giving me a not insignificant amount of wanderlust. Specifically, a desire to fly to Brazil. A friend of mine who lives in Paris, a friend that also loves Brazil recently emailed that she had some pão de queijo at a Brazilian restaurant, and it made me drool. Not literally. But, y’know. I even had a dream last night that I was denied entry when returning to Mexico—something I will be doing on Wednesday—and “had” to fly to Brazil instead.
Took the kayak out again in the morning. I went with my manservant this time. Not as windy as yesterday, so we made relatively light work of the one mile-ish journey to the island. I forget the name of the place, so let’s call it Isla de Shakira. We approached from the northwest and it was all lovely and calm around the west side of the island. Lots of fishes in amongst the sea grass. Pelicans flew by, too, looking for some breakfast. Once we got to the southwest corner of the island, the wind and waves picked up again. We paddled around and found an inlet with a tiny beach. From the island, we heard noises. Human noises. We dragged the kayaks onto the beach and ventured through the trees. Ten minutes or so of hiking (fancy word for “walking”), hearing the voices getting louder, we finally saw moving shapes. We stopped, and I shouted hello. The noise from the trees quieted down. I repeated the greeting and walked forward. And there in front of me: twenty or so women. Beautiful Hispanic women. Naked. All with breasts that one would never confuse with mountains. I turned to my manservant—a happily married man—and told him to go and wait with the kayaks. The leader of the women stepped forward, “You can fuck off with him, ya four-eyed freak.” The women all laughed and I could feel years of erectile problems forming in my loins. Back in the kayaks, we returned to land. Not without some bloody hard work, though. The sea had picked up, and with every paddle forward with the crest of a wave, the trough dragged us back. It was worth it, though: waiting for me there on dry land was a barman who was employed to be nice to me and accept my money in exchange for a bottle of beer.
I’d not had my fill of water, so I had a swim in both the pool and the sea. How decadent is that, eh!?
After yesterday’s magnificent peanut butter ice cream, went back to the same place. Had a mint choc chip ice cream this time. Average. And talking of average, there was a soccer game in progress opposite the ice cream place. Full teams. Matching jerseys and everyfink. Reds vs. yellows. The reds were on fire. Scored three goals which we watched. Kept their shape defensively, too.
On the whole, a moderately lazy day. Caught a bit of sun, too. I now have pink legs instead of off-white legs.
Woke up giggling to myself. I’ve been told before that I sometimes laugh in my sleep, but I woke up during the act. And kept on giggling. I’d been dreaming that there was a Montreal Expos themed flea market in an unspecified Belizean beach village, vaguely like the place I’m staying in right now. (For the non-baseball fans: the Expos were a Major League Baseball team that existed from 1969 until 2004. They were the first MLB team outside of the United States. They were joined by fellow Canucks, the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977 who, since the Expos’ relocation to Washington D.C. to become the Washington Nationals, are now the only non-U.S. team.) Among the stuff for sale was a Daft Punk-style helmet, but with LED and neon Expos logos. It was awesome. So I bought it. And woke up.
The amount of typos I make when typing into the Notes app on my iPod is phenomenal. I did, however, enjoy the “Daft Pink” typo I just wrote (and corrected). I want a Daft Pink Magic Marker.
After breakfast, I asked about the kayaks that were resting against a wooden rail near the hotel. Free for hotel guests to use. Bueno. Time for another adventure. I set out aiming southeast, for a small island that is, apparently, about a mile away. Started paddling. Not too windy or choppy. Got further and further out until I was about halfway. Waters starting to get a bit more uppy downy, but it didn’t seem too far to the island, so pointless to turn back: soon enough I’d be behind the island, which I imagined, would act as some sort of barrier, where the waters would be calmer. Then I felt a knock on the bottom of the kayak. Huh, that was weird. Kept on paddling, re-aligning my course. Another knock. And another. I looked over the edge of the boat and there was a dark shape right there. It seemed to be moving, and it circled back around. Another knock. This time I became a tad concerned. The shape looked, well, kinda like a shark. It was too big to be a dolphin. Another knock. I decided my trip to the island should probably be postponed and started to turn the kayak around. Another knock, this time nearly losing my balance. “Right, you cunt,” I yelled. “I’ve had enough of you.” I set aside my pipe and glass of sherry, and dived into the sea, above the shark. I grabbed hold of his fin, and rodeo-ed him for a while. It’s tough to make yourself heard underwater, but I tried my best to impress on him that I wasn’t some stupid novice, that I’d sailed the seven seas, and a couple more besides. He snarled at me, so I launched a left hook right into his eyeball. The bugger quickly learned the error of his ways. I’m not fluent in shark, but I get by. He offered an apology which I graciously accepted. We had a brief chat. Decent chap, as it goes. Goes by the name of Sharky. We shook hands and he toodled off, and I got back in the kayak, and headed back to shore where I told tales of my adventures on the high seas, to the admiring glances of gentlemen, and lust-filled gazes of ladies. With a wink, I flipped a gold doubloon to a nearby peasant child, who excitedly shouted, “Wow! Thanks, Mr. Robinson! If you ain’t the World’s bestest boatsman, I don’t know who is!” I then retired to my room with a pair of rather comely Mayan twin sisters.
(Actually, it just got a bit too choppy out there for my liking, and my fags had gotten wet in my pocket, so I called it a day, drank a Belikin beer at the bar, and looked at Twitter for a bit.)
In the afternoon, we went to a place in Placencia (the village at the southern end of the peninsula of the same name), called Purple Space Monkey. Yes, indeed. You can insert my roll of the eyes at the name here. Three words chosen, one assumes, to portray some form of once-cool studenty wackiness. It wasn’t, as the name would suggest, though, a “head shop” or “cyber cafe” (a phrase that really does make me chuckle whenever I see it. And did you know that in cyber cafes, you can dial up your AOL account on the information superhighway?) It was, in fact, a place that did average coffee and had a book exchange thingy. A lot of Placencia’s visitors seem to like John Grisham and Danielle Steel. But I guess a lot of humans in general like John Grisham and Danielle Steel. We were served by a slip of a lad from Winnipeg with an almost comedic Canadian accent. They had a massive fucking iguana in the tree next to the verandah, though, which was pretty good.
The village itself seems nice enough considering most of it is tourist-related. On the way into the village, a car cut across the street right in front of us, and without provocation, leant over the passenger seat to yell, “I live here!” through the open window; like being an arsehole driver was a local privilege. Obviously, he was ignoring the fact that tourism more than likely paid for his car in a direct or indirect way.
We had some very nice ice cream from an ice cream place. Peanut butter ice cream. Except they called it gelato for some reason. Must be the Belizean word for ice cream, I guess. The peanut butter ice cream was delicious. Fucking yum. I like typing the words “ice cream.” Ice cream.
Across the street was a soccer field, but it wasn’t just a soccer field, oh no; in one corner was a baseball backstop (translation: a high-ish chain link fence to stop people watching or passers-by from being brained by balls that are hit backwards). And there were some children playing softball, too. I watched for a few minutes. Made me pine a little bit for a new season of baseball to watch, and to try and find some people to play softball with in Mexico City.
After such a harrowing and exhausting day: a late afternoon beer at the hotel bar. Sat next to Dean and Janie, tourists from Virginia. They seemed nice enough. He was a smoker, and mentioned that cigarettes were expensive now in Virginia: $36 for a carton. $3.60 a pack. I guess in tobacco country, that may well be expensive, especially compared to the $10 a pack I paid last time I was in New York in 2009. Very pleasant couple, but then politics came up, and the way Janie turned her nose up talking about “our current president,” you’d think the current president of the United States was Pol Pot. Still, at least she still referred to him as “our  president,” something I’m sure a lot of teabaggers wouldn’t do.
In the evening we popped over to Jaguar Lanes, a bowling alley across the street from the hotel. Little did we know that the combination of cosmic bowling and it being a Saturday night in this tiny village of Maya Beach would mean all the lanes were booked for the night. When we enquired, they told us that we couldn’t bowl tonight, “it’s cosmic bowling.” The woman said it like you’d expect someone to say, “the Rolling Stones and the Beatles are playing a gig here tonight, and we’re serving free beer, and the lapdancers are offering simultaneous all-you-can-eat Buffalo wings and blowjobs.” A whole heap of (mostly-American) Placenia residents filled the four lanes. Retirees, mainly. A couple of hippies, and a light smattering of younger people. Lots of leathery skin, pot bellies, khaki shorts, and white socks. There was even a couple who had matching home-made t-shirts. White with COSMIC written on the back with stars and planets drawn on in fluorescent paint. We stayed for some food. The hot dog was pretty good. I read somewhere that Gore Vidal once said that the best sentence to end a blog post with is “the hot dog was pretty good.” So, I’ll say it again: the hot dog was pretty good.
As so often happens on vacation, you’re in the same hotel as someone who you don’t really get chatting to until the last day. On my last day in Punta Gorda, a guy asked about the the baseball cap I was wearing (replica 1901 Cincinnati Reds). Got chatting with him and his wife, Cubs fans and producers of radio documentaries for NPR. He and his pals take trips to old minor league ballparks, so we had a nice wee chat about that.
After leaving Punta Gorda, it was a swift 90 minute journey north to a wee village called Maya Beach on the peninsula of Placencia in the Stann Creek district. Placencia is pretty much a few hundred feet of beach either side of a road. On the western side is a lagoon, on the eastern side, the Caribbean Sea. Ever since those damn pirate films, I’ve pronounced the name of the sea, Ca-RIBB-ean, not the way I was taught to say it, Carib-BE-an. Fuck you, Johnny Depp. (But not fuck you Keira Knightley, although, come to think of it, take the harsh tone of those words, and, y’know, yes please.)
Dumped my bag in the room, opened the clips, stuck one arm in the top, rooted around like I was artificially inseminating a cow, eventually found my swimming costume. Before dashing out to the sea to have a flap around, I stood by the water having a smoke. Wondered what I could use as an ash can while I’m here so I don’t litter the beach with fag ends, and, as the mind is wont to do, I suddenly started thinking about the ash can outside a bar in Bellingham called Cap Hansen’s. A nice wee place, a place I got drunk several times, and a key place in the relationship with my ex. And also, I presume, punningly named after a racist baseball player, Cap Anson. (It amuses me a little that there’s all the talk about if players who took performance enhancing drugs can get in the Hall of Fame, yet someone who was kinda instrumental in setting up racial segregation in baseball is in the Hall of Fame.)
A relaxing day ensued. All topped off with what most relaxing days yards away from the lapping sounds of the Caribbean should end with: watching a replay of the whole of the 1976 FA Cup final between Southampton and Manchester United.
Terrible night’s sleep. I don’t really mind the sounds of the jungle. Crickets, the odd bird, maybe the sound of the occasional unidentified eight-legged, two-headed monster rampaging across the land to make menacing noises outside my window. But last night, when it rained in the early hours of the morning, it was loud. So many broad leaves on the trees and plants make for a lot of water-hitting-surface noises. And at dawn, there seemed to be a particularly insistant bird outside my room. No matter how much I wished it to happen, he just wouldn’t hit the snooze button. Between those two things, you can add a bad dream that left me wide awake in the dark for over an hour, mulling over the dream’s contents and the real life consequences of my interactions with the real person in the dream, and the real and dreamworld aftermaths. All in all, it left me knackered.
Piled into the car, we took a winding trip south to what on my not-overly-detailed map looks like the closest village to the southern border. A place called Barranco. Passing through a couple of Mayan villages which pretty much only had wooden houses with roofs thatched from palm leaves. Chickens, pigs, dogs and smiley children along the roadside. The road—a dirt track—came to an end near a messy bunch of houses: some wooden, some concrete. At the one tiny store—essentially a counter, where one can order a Coke or beer—an old fella in flip flops, baggy red shorts, an orange t-shirt, and a floppy green hat beckoned us. He introduced himself as Harvey. He was, apparently, a former policeman and “Belize’s Bill Cosby.” He was also seemingly a tad drunk. He anointed himself as a tour guide, albeit a slow slow guide that took about two hours to walk around a village with less people living there than can fit in one subway car. It was a dire place. They had electricity, but how the hell anyone earns a living there I don’t know. Virtually no sign of crops being grown. There was a small pier, though, so maybe fishing goes on.
Harvey told us that the world Bible is an acronym: Basic information before leaving earth.
He took us to the Barranco House of Culture. We paid the $5 entry fee to walk around a room about the size of a minivan. It was full of faded photos, wooden tools, and some records and tapes. There were a few pictures of a singer called Andy Palacio who was, so I’m told, quite famous. Later in the tour, after being guilted into buying coconut cookies for a dollar a pop by some woman who saw us walking by and ran out of her home with a Tupperware box, we stopped by the cemetery to see Andy Palacio’s grave. His gravestone was marble. A quick scan around at the other graves, and there were nailed together crosses with names painted on them. So he was clearer one of the better-off Barranco people.
Back at the cottages and it was time for some much needed relaxation. Stop! Hammock time. Lying there, reading, with one of the cottage cats on my belly.
Of the four cats that live here, one of them, a wee kitty, went missing. Wasn’t around at food time, either. And as I type this last paragraph on Friday morning is still missing. Poor kitty.
For some reason, the WordPress app on my iPod has taken to crashing if I use it too long. It crashed last night while uploaded yesterday’s post, so I tried again and it uploaded the post twice [update: double posts since deleted]. Plus the way it crashes tends to mean that I can’t go back in and edit typos and other mistakes [update: typos since corrected to the best of my ability]. I typed that the zip-line of 2,500 metres was “split up into XXXXX separate lines.” That is how I make a note to myself to check something before putting it online. The assumption being that when I copy and paste the text, I will notice that the capital Xs and deal with the detail that needs dealing with. I forgot to do that. Which is a rather long way of saying it should’ve said “ten separate lines.”
Staying at Hickatee Cottages, a place run by Brits, I was treated to an excellent breakfast of coffee, juice and lovely home-made bread slathered in delicious, delicious, oh-so-delicious Marmite. Down here in the south of Belize, it gets hot and humid, so it’s important to get up and make the most of the less humid early mornings. That was not a problem, as soon after dinner and the accompanying beers, I was exhausted and was asleep as my head hit the pillow.
Taking it easy, after ruin-climbing and zip-lining and a four hour journey over the last couple of days, I used one of the Hickatee bicycles and had a leisurely ride into the town. Butterflies fluttered by, I rode past a dead snake, and a tiny alive snake that scurried across the road in front of my wheels. At one point a whole load of ants were crossing the road. They’d weaved a fairly straight path across the road to and from the jungle on either side. Dark patches of black were a car width apart where a vehicle had crushed a load of ants, but their brothers (and sisters..? Do girl ants do the work, too, or do they just sit around drinking White Russians and watching telenovellas?) kept on trucking, skirting either side of the carnage. But the ants had nothing visible with them. They weren’t like leaf cutter ants where you see them National Geographicin’ tiny bits of leaf around in their gobs. I think I found a colony of what are known as Idiot Ants. Just walking across a road for no damn reason. Or they may just have been playing chicken. Or collectively trying to understand the “why did the chicken cross the road?” jokes.
The town seems pretty much as I remember it from being here in 2008; a couple of restaurants have closed, a few have opened, but that’s about all the difference I noticed. Hungry, stopped at a tiny Chinese place called Zhuo Sheng. An incredibly miserable looking woman slid her flip flops across the floor as slowly as possible and dropped a battered, photocopied menu on the table. Chicken fried rice and a beer, please. While my meal was being prepared I watched the Chinese soap opera that was blaring on the telly in the corner. Language and settings seem to be the only difference from other soap operas. Plus the incidental music was that instrument that Western movies use to indicate that the action is in China, which was interesting. Lazy Western cliches are at least correct. The food arrived. I took the bottle of habanero sauce and give it a couple of shakes over the rice. And rather than the normal drip, it splashed everywhere. They’d watered it down. Everywhere down here, cutlery comes wrapped in a paper napkin. At this place, it came in a sheet of toilet paper. So far so bad. The rice was awful; tasted like it had originally been cooked at some point during the last week and reheated. And there were less vegetables in there than in a Pot Noodle. I poked at the fried shapes of animal on the plate. I think they just fried up some chicken bones. I took two forks of the rice, pushed aside the plate, chugged down the beer and for the first time in a few years, paid without leaving a tip. Next stop, a store to buy some Cheetos and a chocolate bar.
Grumpy grumpy bastard first thing. Hopped out of bed to find no running water in the hotel for the second day in a row. Not had a shower in two days. Filled a glass from the water cooler thingy to take to my room just to give myself a whore’s bath.
After splashing my bits, it was time for the day’s first adventure: zip-lining. The place we were staying at has a 2,500 metre zip-line thing set up in the jungle on the property. It’s split up into XXXXX separate lines [update: that was supposed to say "ten separate lines"]. When asked if I wanted to do it, I said yes simply because I’m absolutely shit scared of heights. At the top of the Mayan ruin yesterday, I felt all vertigo-y, but I didn’t want to miss a fun opportunity just because of a silly fear of heights. I got strapped into a rather fetching harness, gloves, and helmet ensemble and it was time to go. One of the guide guys went off first, and I stepped up. The other guide told me exactly where to hold on, where and when to use my back hand to break. Stood on the edge of a bit of a hill at the top of the jungle canopy, with just a few feet drop beneath me, he told me to “sit” into the harness. I was so glad that I didn’t actually have to push off or take a step out off the platform. That would’ve been too difficult for my fear to cope with. But the simple act of sitting was a great way to start. I sat, and slowly gravity took over and for ten seconds or so, I was flying over the top of the jungle. It was awesome. Next up a shorter one, and after those two baby lines, they got longer, with bigger drops beneath the line. Each of the platforms were high up, built around trees. Some of the lines were fairly steep and fast. The smell of the burning glove leather accompanying each platform approach. All felt very safe. And way cooler than letting my fears run my life. The very last one was high and long, returning us to the start. This one was accessed by a hydraulic elevator which wobbled up near the top of a fucking tall tree. Stood on a wobbly piece of metal, that was really the only time I felt the fear of heights, and up there, all I wanted was to be on the line, cos there felt safer. Of course, the elevator wasn’t unsafe, it was just my silly brain. At the end, and, as one would expect, all I wanted was to do it again.
And that was it for the Cayo district of Belize. Into the car, and a four hour journey east and south to Punta Gorda in the Toledo district. I was here almost exactly three years ago, and it’s nice to be back, sat on the same verandah at the wonderful Hickatee Cottages, drinking a Belikin beer, feeling relaxed in the hot and humid evening. Time to count all of those crickets I can hear in the jungle.
So, no other guests at this place. The other tables at breakfast totally silent. No inane chatter. No-one to be snarky about. Which saddens me more than world hunger.
And this was EARLY. Breakfast at six fucking thirty. Out on the crappy, dusty road by 7.15am. Heading towards Caracol. It wasn’t far on the map, but after a wee detour when we headed the wrong way, the road was so shitty it took us until nigh on nine o’clock to get to the military escort point. Apparently this road is a good place to get robbed by bandits. The military point was a couple of wooden buildings with an incredibly loud radio. After some talk of marital infidelity and the joys of the Lord, the radio switched to eighties hour. Maniac, Mickey, Uptown Girl, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). In the toilet there was graffiti positioned so that urinating men could read it: “Thank God for what is in my hand is not in my ass!” I guess the John McCain would be a fan of these Belizean soldiers’ opinions on homosexuality.
The military escort was, well, I didn’t really notice any particularly military-looking people or vehicles; there was just a convoy of six tourist cars and buses. And the road got worse. Littered with potholes and big rocks, trenches dug out by the rainy seasons. It was genuinely like driving along a dried out river bed.
A brief paved stretch either side of a river crossing, twenty minutes more bumpy, then a lovely road up to Caracol. Paid the $15 (Belizean) fee, and it was Mayan ruin party time. Some fairly big stuff going on. Took a hike up the biggest to the top, which afforded a wonderful view over the top of the jungle canopy. In the distance, ten shades of hills further and further away in the distance. I had my headphones on. And it was enjoyable. For one thing, I’ve not listened to music much since I’ve been here, so it was nice to choose what was going in my ears. And, thinking of what would be appropriate and realising I didn’t really have anything on my iPod, I listened to “Space,” the ambient house album by Jimmy Cauty which still sounds ace, and sounded really great in a sweaty jungle, sitting at the top of Mayan ruins. Try as I might to enjoy it, and to experience some sort of awe, ruins just don’t do it for me. I wish they did.
We had a wee picnic, then took the road back. This time, though, the journey was punctuated with a break at a place called Rio on Pools. I wasn’t as prepared as the others for a spot of spontaneous swimming, as they’d all brought swimming costumes. So, I felt stupid swimming in my boxer shorts, my cock bobbing and flopping out of the flap every few seconds. It was annoying. A nice place, though. Next time I am visiting some ruins I will endeavour to anticipate the need for swimming trunks.
Back at the hotel place, more lovely food cooked by a very friendly young chap called Abner. Frankly, it’s worth staying there for his cooking. And for the opportunity to meet someone called Abner, which doesn’t happen every day.
I’m fairly sure there’s the possibility for some sort of TV play to be made about the subtleties of human beings in a hotel breakfast environment. Sadly, though, it’d likely be done by Matt Lucas and David Walliams with no subtlety whatsoever. The passive aggressive one-upmanship of stories. I’ve been here. Well, I went there five years ago. My Canon EOS has got a bigger lens. I took some great shots of that toucan yesterday that were way better toucans than you are taking photos of right now. Etc. forever.
Onwards to a new place to stay, waaaaay down a gravelly, potholed road to a place called Calico Jack’s. Not too far from San Ignacio, but out in the jungle. We are the first ever guests. It’s been open for a while because they have ziplining and caves to explore, but the hotelly bit is new.
And it seems pretty fine to me. I spent most of my Sunday watching the NFL playoffs, drinking cold beers. So not much to complain about. But, with no other guests, what the heck am I gonna write about over breakfast tomorrow morning?